Sauk Valley

Richard Joseph Gjonola

POLO – Richard "Dick" Gjonola, recently of Polo, passed away Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009, at his home, after a long and arduous battle with cancer.

Dick was born Oct. 31, 1939, in Chicago, the firstborn son of Joseph and Lillian Gjonola.

Dick attended Taft High School in Chicago, at the same time as Jim Jacobs, author of the play, "Grease," and was the inspiration for the character of Kenickie. He served in the Army from 1957 to 1960 in Germany.

Dick's drive for perfection allowed him to excel at anything he tried in industry, until one day his singing talent was acknowledged by an agent, who wanted to hire him as the lead singer for a tour of The Royal American Shows. So, Dick left his corporate position to venture into show business.

Dick married Patricia Smith, the daughter of Tony and Kathleen Smith of Polo, on Oct. 11, 1970, in Chicago. They moved to Los Angeles, where Dick Gjonola went on to star in plays, musicals, industrial shows and films, made-for-TV movies, commercials, major movies, and sitcoms. He can be seen in reruns of "Good Times," "The Jeffersons," "Archie Bunker's Place," "Rockford Files," "Turks," "Early Edition," "Tough Target," and more. Dick had a feature role in the movie "Hoodlum."

Probably the character Dick is most known for is The Burger King. Dick was the "real" Burger King in all of the children's commercials from 1980-83, at which time Burger King Corp. decided to stop making all children's commercials (much to the glee of the McDonald's Corp.).

Dick Gjonola also was an accomplished writer of children's plays, all of which were produced in Los Angeles, and some published.Upon moving to Polo, he wrote several musical plays that were performed by Dick and his wife, Patricia, at White Pines Dinner Theatre in the late '90s, in addition to starring in WPDT's Christmas Show, "Scrooge: The Comedy."
 Dick's greatest source of love and joy was his family. He tried to teach his three sons, by his own example, the traits he respected most in a man – honor and integrity. He has always been proud of their accomplishments, but more proud of the man each one has grown to be.

Dick is survived by his wife, Patricia, and sons, Michael and Nicholas Gjonola, all of Polo, and Joseph (Fanny) Gjonola, of Los Angeles; and his brother, Ken (Mary) Gjonola and family of Las Vegas.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Lillian Gjonola; and his sister, Joanne Beddoes.

The funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Mary Catholic Church, Polo, with the Rev. Brian Olsen officiating. Cremation rites have been accorded. Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Polo Family Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established. Visit to send condolences.